Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cardinal Schönborn on evangelizing the Jewish people

A fascinating article in this week's Tablet:
Again and again, most recently concerning the revised Good Friday Prayer for the "Old Rite", this question of the "Mission to the Jews" keeps arising. Some theologians today are of the opinion that Christians should give up all attempts to missionise the Jews. Some go even further and think that there is no need to offer the Jews entry into the new covenant in Jesus Christ as God's covenant with the people of Israel was never revoked. The "Old Covenant" is the way to salvation for the Jews and the "New Covenant" the way to salvation for Gentiles, they say. This theory of "Two Ways to Salvation" is, however, rightly seen as incompatible with the Catholic belief in one salvation in Jesus Christ, as Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out in the Jesuit journal America in October 2002.

The following short article tries - very simply - to consult the New Testament in an attempt to give an answer to the theory of the "Two Ways to Salvation". The article tries to show that according to the New Testament and from the Christian point of view there is only one salvation in Jesus Christ, but two clearly distinguishable ways of proclaiming and accepting this salvation. In this respect it must be made clear that the overture/offer to the Jews to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah cannot simply be equated with Christ's mandate to evangelise all (heathen) nations and make them his disciples (cf. Matthew 28: 18-20). That is what I have tried to explain below.
An interesting exegesis of passages from the New Testament follows ... the basic point seems to be that way of proclamation to the Jewish people is different. How? Basically, there aren't two ways of salvation, but two ways of receiving salvation.
God's choice of the Jews in his plan for the world - "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29) - calls for particular attention on the part of the Church regarding the way in which the Gospel message is proclaimed to the Jews by her children. The individual conscience must always be respected. Religious liberty requires this of everyone. But the vocation of the Jews requires Christians to recognise the mystery of the specific choice of those to whom belong "the adoption [as children], the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Romans 9:4-5). The fact that the Church has apologised for the diverse forms of compulsion which they have had to suffer throughout the Christian era implies that Christians have now irrevocably renounced all forms of proselytism. This does not mean that Christians for their part have abandoned the mandate to proclaim the Gospel "to the Jews first" which the Apostles received from Christ and which they passed on to the Church. On the other hand, it means that this mandate must be carried out in the most sensitive way, cleansed of all un-Christian motives. Prayer, the offering of life, tokens of unselfish love and above all recognition of Jewish identity should win "the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47) for the disciples of Jesus so that bearing witness to their faith in Christ, proposed with due respect and humility, may be recognised by them (the Jews) as the fulfilment - and not as a denial - of the promise of which they are the bearers.
Again, the status of Israel is unique. The Church's relationship to the Jewish people is unique, unlike it's relationship with any other group -- they are our "elder brothers" and not just another "religion."

Of course, in the modern West, all religions are deemed to be the same, and any talk about uniqueness is suspect. And this attitude has, it seems, deeply infected Catholics. [This is reflected in the language of the Tablet's introductory summary to Cardinal Schönborn's article: "The revised Good Friday prayer for the evangelisation of the Jews in the Tridentine Rite has reignited the debate about how Catholics should approach the tricky area of "proclamation" to members of other faiths." Tricky? It's only tricky if one thinks that "proclamation" is ... icky! It might be complicated, and nuanced, and requiring prayer and sensitivity, and a respect for human dignity -- but isn't that what all Christian living is about? Why tricky? The leader to the article is also misleading: "Christian-Jewish relations have grown warmer over the years. But should Christians proclaim the Gospel to the Jews? Here a senior cardinal explains that Christ's mandate to evangelise all heathen nations did not refer to the Jews, for whom a second kind of proclamation is in order." At least in my reading, what Cardinal Schönborn says is that the proclamation cannot "simply be equated" to the mandate to evangelize the heathens. There is a difference in mode. The bottom line remains: "Jews and Christians alike need to be redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ."

Evangelizing -- sharing the good news of salvation in Christ -- is not intrinsically disrespectful or arrogant. We really need to learn that.

I wonder what the experience of Catholics and other Christians living in the Holy Land is, with respect to relationship with the Jewish people? I know in the US, the majority of Jews are secular, and, I suspect, deeply resentful of anything resembling Christian evangelism.

Cardinal Schönborn also suggests that though St. Paul writes that there there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ,
However, it does not follow that from then on the difference between Jews and Greeks was abolished in the Church. Even within the Church, St Paul retains a certain diversity of appeal and differentiates between those who "come from circumcision" and those "who come from the Gentiles". This comes out in St Paul's letters in which he distinguishes between - and gives significant priority to - "we [who come from circumcision]" and "you [who come from the Gentiles]".
Thus, within the Church there were "two vocations"
It is in this way that St Paul distinguishes between the two vocations, between those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah who came "from circumcision" and those who converted to Christ and came "from the Gentiles". The difference lies in the way in which they communicate with each other in the Church and impart the same blessing to the world which God conferred on human beings through Jesus Christ, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15,8-9).
While this might have been true of the earliest generation, surely it wasn't true soon afterwards? Even if one accepts the sociological analysis offered by Rodney Stark (see this interview with Mike Aquilina in Touchstone), that the mission to the Jews was actually successful (his contention is that diaspora Jews were less tied to markers of Jewish ethnicity, and the abolition of distinctive ethnic markers in Christianity made it very appealing to them. He likens the general mindset of 2nd & 3rd century diaspora Judaism to 19th century Reform Judaism, influenced by the Enlightenment, that also was uncomfortable with ethnic markers, except in the latter case, the shift seems to have been not just to Christianity, but to secular humanism.), the distinctiveness of Jewish Christians seems to have disappeared from the Church early on.

This is not to suggest that such a distinction might not be useful in our own time, which is a lot more sensitive to the heritage and traditions of those who were "first to hear the message of salvation," and also where the sociological realities are very different from the early centuries of the Church.

[It would also be interesting to hear about this from prominent Jewish converts to Catholicism, such as Roy Schoeman ("Salvation is from the Jews"). See also this article in FT on Jewish-Christian dialogue.]

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